It is Nochebuena! Curious about what happens on Christmas eve at a Latin household? We tell it all :-), or at least from a Colombian-Cuban-Brazilian-American perspective. First off, it is not a night affair, rather it is a whole day event. Nochebuena translates literally into the good night, and it is really Christmas Eve.
Regardless of Hispanic country of origin, it is safe to say that in general, for us, it is a religious celebration mixed in with a lot of “parranda” partying and good eating. As a matter of fact, Nochebuena brings with it “la cena navideña” or Christmas dinner which is the most important meal of the celebrations. It is more than a meal, it is a true feast where typical dishes or treat will appear via appetizers or at dinnertime. Yumm! I can almost taste the “arepas” (rice cakes), empanadas, “Buñuelos” (cheesy fritters), pao de queixo, freijoa rice pudding and natilla! Besides the traditional dishes, turkey and pork are widely served for this special dinner.
For the toast
I did say Nochebuena is a whole day event. Family members visit and flock to the house where the celebration will take place to lend a hand or deliver ingredients. Officially around 8 everyone arrives dressed in their best and ready to party! For many, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a glass of Coquito, an alcoholic beverage made with coconut milk, condensed milk and white rum. Colombians will offer you aguardiente (a moonshine flavored with anise) and whiskey as will Venezuelans. Brazilians will not hurt for lack of cachaca with which caipirinhas are made. Caribbeans like Cubans will be playing dominoes and sipping rum. At midnight bubble flows to wish each other a Merry Christmas, and fireworks are done in the driveway
The kids and the gifts
At the beginning of the month, children write letter to “el niño Dios”. It is Baby Jesus who brings presents to everyone for Christmas. As a decorated but giftless Christmas tree stands proud in a prominent place of the home, kids will run freely up until 10pm depending on their ages. At some point they are all put to bed, to be woken up at midnight to discover that Baby Jesus has brought over a boat load of presents!
Until the wee hours of the morning
Once we have all wished each other a Merry Christmas, dinner is served or everyone heads out to attend mass. At midnight Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass which translates into (mass of roosters) is held, and many do participate in it to commemorate the birth of Jesus, which took place at midnight. It is called Misa de Gallo, from a legend about a rooster who witnessed and announced the birth of Jesus to the world. With dinner or mass taken care of, the patriarch is in charged of handing out the gift from under the Christmas tree. It is a long and very loud highlight of the night. Once gifts are handed out, the partying continues with lots of dancing. Music you will normally enjoy at these gatherings range between salsa, merengue, reggaeton, bachata, vallenato, cumbia and much, much more.
There you have a general overview of what Nochebuena is. Don’t have a Nochebuena party to go to? Our doors are open! Get your dancing shoes ready, and get ready for your belly to ache from laughing so much and so hard.
Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas everyone!